Blog post

Toward a More Balanced View of Government 2.0

By Andrea Di Maio | October 27, 2010 | 3 Comments

web 2.0 in government

A few days ago I published what I thought would be a pretty innocuous post, sharing my experience at the Gartner Symposium. The post expressed a not-totally positive view about the relevance of government 2.0 for many of the CIOs and other IT leaders.

I was just stating a fact, and I got a fair amount of great comments, to which I responded, but also an unexpected stream of tweets, ranging from being dismissive of our event (without realizing it is the largest gathering of CIOs worldwide) to being dismissive of my work (which is fair, everybody is entitled to his or her opinions) to accusing me of inflammatory statements. Just the tone reminded me of my experience with some representatives of the application develop community who bashed me after I said they’d better be developers than politicians.

I do like people to have strong opinions and exhibit passion in an online dialogue. And it is quite clear to me that there is a growing divide between those who evangelize about and drive government 2.0 transformation, and other people in government, who are either followers by nature or simply more cautious in prioritizing their efforts. The problem is that the latter are also those who will be the real users and enablers of government 2.0 going forward.

Somebody commented that one of the problems with government 2.0 is that it is often perceived as a technology challenge, to be dealt with by CIOs.

I do agree that this is often a problem, but many CIOs are not just technology folks (those would be the CTOs), but their role is to act as the nexus between technology and the business. For this very reason they are always involved, although they do not often lead, government 2.0 initiatives.

Therefore if a large sample of CIOs does express reservations or just a tepid enthusiasm, I take this as an important signal that government 2.0 may have to face stronger resistance than many believe.

Government 2.0 is losing steam for CIOs

Two data points, besides what I heard from CIOs and IT leaders at Symposium, are quite significant.

First of all, NASCIO recently published their priorities for US state CIOs for 2011, and government 2.0 or open government does not even make the top 10 under “Priority Strategies, Management Processes and Solutions”, while social media and networking barely makes the “Priority Technologies, Applications and Tools”, at number 10.

Secondly, the recent online survey that I launched to support the Gartner research agenda planning also showed anything open government and government 2.0 pretty much at the bottom of the top 10 priority list under business or technology issues.

Now, for those who feel that I am suggesting that government 2.0 is for technologists, you may wish to take a look at the Gartner Open Government Maturity Model (client access required), where increasing maturity requires the responsibility to move from communication (at the very early stage), to the CIO, to the CFO and finally the CEO.

Actually the CIO is supposed to be in charge (or actively help) at the most delicate inflection point, which is the turn from open government (“we, the government, provide data to people who will use that”) to government 2.0 (which incorporates open government, but also looks at how government can use data that people collect themselves). More about this on How Do Open Government and Government 2.0 Relate to Each Other? (client access required, also mentioned in this blog post).

As open government (or government 2.0) become more entrenched in the normal course of business, it is up to other C-level executives to lead the charge: the CFO first, to ensure sustainability and direct impact on operational efficiency objectives, and finally the CEO (or Chief Administrator or City Manager or Director General, depending on the specific organization) to ensure that public value is realized.

We keep seeing the same government 2.0 examples

In one of his tweets, O’Reilly’s Alex Howard, who has one of the most informative blogs on the topic, pointed to a list of examples of government 2.0. But – guess what? – they are mostly a deja vu, ranging from the overused Peer-to-Patent example (which makes Beth Noveck’s excellent book a bit boring in places) to, from tracking stimulus money to several open data initiatives (in Britain, San Francisco, at HHS, etc). Government 2.0 and open data stories from Toronto, Manor (TX), San Francisco, Vancouver, Washington DC, and so forth are mentioned over and over again as evidence of what is possible.

Don’t get me wrong: these are all very important initiatives, and there are plenty of others around the world. However for some (most?) of them, value is predicated on the basis of principles and potential, and is not yet fully demonstrated. Of course, in most cases it finally will, but my contention is that this may not be enough, or soon enough, to keep the momentum, as the data points above may suggest.

Government 2.0 is for every employee, not just communication or public information officers

Government 2.0 is not a communication tool, it is a working tool. Every single employee can use participation, collaboration, engagement as “tools” to be more effective or efficient to produce the outcome he or she is supposed to contribute to.

That’s why the success stories that I find are not high-profile initiatives (such as opening data or launching a service on Twitter or creating an agency page on Facebook), but almost accidental events featured by normal employees, rarely government 2.0 experts or superstars, who find a smart way of solving a problem,. This happens in all domains, from social care to tax compliance, from public safety to procurement, from human resource management to cultural heritage.

The key to success is not necessarily to get leadership support, as leaders – and especially political leaders – tend to change.

The key to success is to look at government  2.0 approaches and technologies as a toolkit at the employee’s disposal – pretty much like their Office suite or their case management tool or the codified processes they are supposed to follow.

Success materializes when government employees are able to make the right decision, engage the best resources, become agents of innovation without forgetting their accountability.

More on this on a previous blog post, further detailed in Why HR Is More Important Than Communication to Lead Social Media Use in Government (client access required)

Government 2.0 has nothing to do with politics

Of course it has. Government services and operations are always influenced by politics. But they are meant to be neutral, bi-partisan, and government officials are accountable irrespective of their political beliefs and affiliation.

What I mean is that government 2.0 will succeed when it moves from trying to meet political requirements (such as increasing people’s trust in government) to facing service delivery and resource management challenges. This will make it sustainable, this will make it – as I said above – part of the normal course of business.

In this respect, there is a disconnect between those who are supposed to benefit most and are essential to make this transformation happen, and those who evangelize. The latter, in fact, tend to be: elected officials, political appointees, vendors and consultants (as well as journalists). Of course there are exceptions, but – as a CIO in Canada told me a while ago about one of his colleagues in a different jurisdiction tweeting about gov 2.0 – “there is likely to be a personal agenda behind his tweets”.

Again, nothing wrong, it is just the nature of the game. Most commentators say that it is matter of time. Others say that the government 2.0 evangelists are working to encourage people in government who are doing the work to write more about it, but the problem is that those are busy doing work.

I do hope this is the case, but I have a sense that some of the government 2.0 evangelists may be too focused on proving their case (e.g. government “is” a platform, government 2.0 “is” about opening data. if we build they will come…), rather than exploring actual avenues of value, and accepting that government executives need something more solid than principles and slightly overused examples.

I am convinced there is value, as soon as we start looking more inside than outside government, recognizing the central role of government employees over the (indeed overused) wisdom of the crowd.

Comments are closed


  • Tim Evans says:

    I had responded more prosaically in another forum ( to some responses to the original article:

    “..a bunch of web 2.0 geeks attending an unconference won’t move SES-er’s, for whom Gartner a**-covering justifies their bonuses.”

  • Walter Neary says:

    I’ve been enjoying your post. Twitter is (partly) for beating up on people in a mob format, and people don’t want to hear a discouraging word about Gov. 2.0 I get that a lot as a city councilman who uses social media but is realistic about it; the rabid don’t understand that there needs to be general public acceptance before it goes mainstream as a tool for public outreach. At a big city conference, people told me they thought I was way, way wrong when I said that Gov. 2.0 was irrelevant to politicians outside big cities; but the fact remains most people in my town think my operations on Facebook, Twitter etc… are pretty eccentric. At our city’s budget hearing, the idea of plotting crime stats on a map was put down by others as unimportant and so expensive it might interfere with salaries (neither being true)

    So you’re a good voice for incremental progress, and I enjoy your posts.

  • Walter, thanks for your comment from the trenches. It is refreshing and keeps me going 🙂